We finally arrived on The Coburg Peninsula east of Darwin. Getting here from Darwin was a study in currents. We had to leave Tipperary Marina at the higher end of the tide (so that we could get out the lock) and in the morning to give us daylight for cruising – this turned out to be 6am on a falling tide. We negotiated Clarence Strait and some interesting eddies and whirlpools around Smith Reef and 11 hours later anchored on the east side of Melville Island at Conder Point (behind a shallow area called Nihil Patch). We needed to wait until the next day when we would have more time to cross the Dundas Strait and get to the Coburg Peninsula back on the mainland.
As soon as we exited the northern end of Nihil Patch the next day, we were back into choppy seas and pesky currents. We spent most of the day ‘tacking’ (zig zagging) to varying degrees to make for a comfier ride. By the afternoon we had adjusted our course to head in a northerly direction to let the current move us in an arc towards the entrance to our next stop at Alcara Bay(this meant driving about 45o off where we wanted to be). We didn’t want to be swept past the entrance as we might not have the speed to comfortably get back – it was an interesting experience. I was very glad to get into Alcara Bay that evening.
The next day there were more ‘tacking’ type maneuvers to avoid beam seas for getting around Cape Don. We intended to park up at Seven Spirits Bay for a day or two as the cat was starting to look a bit green after all that time in a marina. On approach to Seven Spirits Bay, we noticed another boat anchored where we intended to anchor! Obviously using the same guide book…
and it was a Nordhavn! We have not come across another Nordy in WA or on our travels thus far. Oz of ‘Shebeen’ invited us over for afternoon drinks and to compare notes on the Territory. He was half way through his circumnavigation of Australia and was out taking friends for a little tour of the Coburg Peninsula while he waited for his wife, Nat, to return from over east visiting friends. ‘Shebeen’ is a beautifully fitted out 60ft Nordy and Oz and his friends made very pleasant company. Little did we know this would be the first of many encounters and they have become good friends of ours.
A few days later we popped around the corner into Port Essington proper for a week of fishing, fishing and fishing. I recalled that there was a boat couple that would come into the marina in Darwin every 6 weeks or so, restock for a few days and then head back out here. I can see why; it is so peaceful and large enough that you hardly notice the little fishing boats zipping around.
Our first anchorage was in Knocker Bay and I still can’t say it without a little titter (I’m from Kalgoorlie and Knockers are a very specific profession). The Sat phone is proving to be very useful as there is only occasional VHF radio communication. We can hear one side of conversations between the Border Force planes and fishing boats (we have yet to be buzzed by Border Force – Peter thinks it’s because we have every conceivable piece of paper work completed with the various Australian agencies, I think they are just busy keeping track of all those fishing boats).
My goal this trip is to improve my dinghy driving skills. I don’t “think dinghy” and it won’t just happen for me, so poor Peter gets to do his fishing while listening to me talking to myself, and occasionally the outboard motor. I have managed to stop stalling it now, so progress is being made. In truth I can drive a dinghy, but it is the art of maneuvering around mangroves smoothly that I’m trying to master. I’m so happy that I didn’t actually hit any trees today.
I am trying to take photos, while watching and calling the depth for Pugwash, while also keeping an eye out for ‘big lizards’ and trying to stay close but not too close to the mangroves; so I might just be juggling too much. Pugwash doesn’t help either, as he is still getting the hang of his new overhead reel; casting into, not-next-to a mangrove is not uncommon. We managed to recover every mis-cast lure.
The white heron that I was trying catch a photo of was not making life easy for me and Peter kept catching fish or getting strikes so that was inconvenient too. In the mornings when we head out (about an hour before high tide) the water is so clear you can see the rays sitting on the bottom before they scoot off (round dark rays, not the shovel nose ones that we need to look out for and report – they are endangered). There are multiple schools of mackerel doing their thing just this side of the mangroves and pods of dolphins rounding up schools of giant herring. Peter is being teased by schools of Queen fish and Trevally. We can see their dorsal fins cutting through the water as they get excited hunting all the small bait fish that thrive amongst the mangroves. I do love mangroves; they look so odd with their roots all heading for the water, they are just beautiful (I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but it bears repeating).
We were not the only ones out fishing; I got so flummoxed at seeing a crocodile doing it’s thing just in-front of the dinghy that I forgot to take a photo. I was a bit concerned that I might run over it as we only clearly identified it when the bow-wave-moving-with-purpose, slowly rose to become a knobbly head. He/she was rounding up yet another school of fish trapped close to one of the little white beaches that dot the shoreline.
The lovely beaches are also just teasing us, as you can’t sit sun-tanning on them lest the crocs have the same idea. We have a little routine for loading and disembarking the dinghy so that we aren’t on the back swim platform for longer than necessary. Crocodiles are the aspergers kids of the reptilian world – they like a good routine and will hold that against you (and hold your arm, legs and anything else that you routinely leave hanging somewhere). But the guy we saw today was too busy having breakfast to be worried about us.
Lemon baked Queen fish today (they are a clean white fish with the loveliest little diamond spikes along their top and bottom rear edges – just don’t grab them there else the spikes won’t seem quite so lovely). This is the Territory so the size limit is probably only related to the size hook you use (if it’s hatched, it’s fair game – unless it’s a barra, there are serious rules for Barramundi). To be safe we always worked on minimum size of 30cm for anything that does not have a specific size mentioned.
Circling overhead, riding the thermals were Sea Eagles, Osprey and Terns. They all occasionally swooped at the water hoping to grab a meal. Each little beach seemed to each have a resident pair of curlews that insisted on running at us even as we went past in the tender (they really do get grumpy during breeding season). And the elegant white herons just sat in the trees glaring at my attempts to reverse out of the mangroves. There was plenty of fish for everyone, but no crabs for us – there is no crab potting permitted in Port Essington.
“Bushfires are a ubiquitous feature of the Northern Territory dry season, with the territory having the most frequent, largest and more poorly documented vegetation fires of any part of the continent.”(www.aic.gov.au/sites/default/files/2020-07/tbp027_09_nt.pdf)
After a lovely week of fishing, it was time to continue east to Gove. We choogled back out of the rather long Port Essington; spending a night opposite the Old Victoria Settlement (Barrow Bay/Wanewanja Cove) and then at the Black Point Ranger Station, before heading into the Arafura Sea and turning right. We both loved this part of the Coburg area and could have easily spent a lot more time here.
Now for a quiet cruise to Gove (if only !!!! Read on).
Historical Highlights: or (Research Ravings)
Victoria Settlement, 1830s – this is where the 19th century explorer Leichhardt arrived after 14mths traipsing across the top of Australia from Morton Bay, Qld; he had been assumed lost and dead.
One of the fascinating stories I came across while reading about the life at Port Essington and sailing in the 19th century, involved cockroaches. The colony lost about 300kg of food stored on a ship in the harbour, to cockroaches. I found their solution a bit radical but effective. They opened holes in the hull and sunk the boat, left it there for a week (during which time the locals feasted on the fleeing roaches), repaired the holes and then floated the boat back up – pest free! I have seen a cockroach recently scuttling around on ‘Opal Lady’ and that solution is not one I am considering.
We have just realised that we will need to ‘re-swing’ the ship compass (big magnetic jobbie) when we get to civilisation. The compass is in the centre of the console and surrounded by all the electronics, each unit of which influences the magnetics in the compass. Having changed the electronics and their arrangement, we have changed how the compass is influenced and it needs to be recalibrated (called swinging) for the new situation. We don’t usually use this compass for steering the boat, the electronic system has its own. What it does mean is that my exit bearings for each anchorage confuse Peter as they don’t match the plotter. I explained (again) that I use the ship compass for exit bearings, as I assume that when all has gone to hell in the dark, and we just need to get out of an anchorage, I can use the magnetic compass with just a torch if needed. I don’t need the compass to be accurate as long as it is consistent (the difference between accuracy and precision in science), so even though we know the actual number is incorrect, it is fit for purpose. But we will get it attended to in Brisbane to minimize confusion.
For whatever reason there is not a catch for securing the insect screens up – bring on a size 9 knitting needle.
[This is a record of our experiences and is not intended as a recommendation for others. Phone reception on ‘Opal Lady’ is assisted with the use of a CellFiGo booster. We measure our depths from the lowest point of the hull (add 1.6m for actual water level depth).]
Anchored Black Point Ranger Station/Smith Point: 15/09/2020 at 11 09.787S, 132 08.910E, in 2.5m with 1.3m tide. Catamarans anchored on the other (W) side of the point. Internet access intermittent but enough to put up a blog entry. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg147] [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg168]
Anchored opposite Old Victoria Settlement: 13/09/2020 at 11 22.168S, 132 10.800E, in 3.2m with 1m drop to low tide, 20m chain. Chain covered in mud, anchor needed washing and snubber line covered in small round eggs. No phone reception. Mozzies in evening.
Anchored Knocker Bay: 10/09/2020, at 11 19.960S, 132 07.182E, in 3.6m (tide going up 1.8m, down 0.7m). Very muddy anchor and chain. No phone reception. Mozzies in evening. [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg168]
Anchored Seven Spirit Bay: 08/09/2020, in 3.5m on eastern side of Bay. Enter by running a southerly line to the peninsula that divides the bay at the middle. No phone reception. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg148] [Fish Finder Magazine, 2020, pg168]
Travelling Trepang Bay to Coral Bay (then to Seven Spirit Bay) required zigzagging to avoid beam-on seas, winds ESE 10-15knts.
Anchored Alcara Bay: 06/09/2020, at 11 17.278S, 131 47.631E, in 5m (tide up 1m, down 0.5m), with 30m chain. Muddy anchor with slimy weed on chain. No phone reception. Enter by following the midline of the bay on an ESE heading. Strong current, so aimed boat well north of Alcara Bay to ensure a clear entry well away from rocks at southern point. [The Anchorage Guide Cairns to Darwin, M Templeton and M Cook, 2018, pg150]
Travelling from Conder Point to Alcara Bay: 06/09/2020 at 11 20.666S, 131 39.524E, big eddies 50m across with upwelling water. Winds SE 5-15knts.
Anchorage Conder Point, Melville Island: 05/09/2020 at 11 45.600S, 131 16.333E, in 5m (tide up 2m, down 1.5m), winds NE 10-15knts, 40m chain.
Travelling Darwin to Conder Point, Melville Island; 05/09/2020 at 12 00.589S, 131 01.295E. Large current and eddies around Smith Reef in Clarence Strait North Channel, in 42.8m, 2hrs to low tide, winds NE 10-15knts.